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What's in your Mansion?

Matthew 1:18-25

The Rev. Jon Roberts

19 December


Good Shepherd Episcopal

Venice, FL

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; 19 and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; 21 she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emman′u-el”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.

What's in your Mansion?

16th C. Icon of Mary holding the Christ child, Emmanuel. St. Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai

Purify our conscience. Conscience. With-Science. With-Knowledge. Purify our knowledge.

Purify our knowing by your daily visitation, that your Son, Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for him.[1]

What's in your mansion? No, this is not an endorsement for Capital One Bank, but, it does relate by suggesting all things in which we bank our faith, are not the same. In our collect today, we are called to clean up the imperfections of our knowing. Specifically, what we know about the one who is called Immanuel. "God is with us." Who is this Immanuel, "God is with us," anyway? What kind of mansion is prepared for God to live?

In the beginning of this month, a good number of people from this church went up to have a retreat at the Dayspring Conference Center in Ellenton, Florida and while there, we explored the words of St. Teresa of Avila and the topic of a soul having many mansions. "The soul has many mansions", she said. "And there is a light that shines forth from the middle," which is the light of Christ. Sometimes it cannot be seen because we are very far away, by not knowing ourselves and the source, which we belong.[2]

We are to prepare the way by cleaning up our consciences. Two passages of scripture come to life, revealing God is with us. They are both beautiful stories of God's unfailing love. The first one is in Isaiah, chapter seven and the second is in the first chapter of Matthew. There is a long tunnel allowing pure water to pass through our faith cleaning up our mansion, purifying our knowledge of who we are and who God is.

A long time ago there was a father whose faith was muddied. He had come to believe everyone worshipped the same God. Those who wanted a good crop worshiped the God of rain. Those who wanted good fishing worshiped the God of the sea. Those who wanted children worshiped the God of fertility. Those who wanted to be healed worshiped this piece of wood that had a picture of a snake on it. They all wanted what they thought was salvation; that thing which their faith was built on and what they felt would save them. This is what they knew. This man, this father was really mixed, and most troubling, he was a king. He was no ordinary king. He was the thirteenth in succession from mighty King David. The same one whose star you see near one who is Hebrew. To them, David means everything. From his lineage, will come the Messiah, the prince of peace and Lord of Lords, and his name will be Emmanuel. This king in the story was king Ahaz. He not only saw idol worship in the house that David built, but worse, he permitted it. Threats of the Assyrians coming down from the north, tainting the Northern Kingdom of Israel and spreading into the Southern Kingdom of Judah were entering into Jerusalem, this great fortress on the hill. What would they find if they overtook it? They would find a king and a people who had drifted away from their original faith in God. They no longer searched God for a sign. They became complacent and signed on to every travelling merchant who sold their idols in the marketplace. It was a free city. Everyone had the right to sell what they want. It was about learning other customs and being open to new ideas. Once a mighty kingdom, they were now threatened by the Assyrians to the north and the Egyptians to the south and the Babylonians to the east. They were not simply surrounded; they were infiltrated.

Ahaz had a man of God by his side; someone who was a bit of a historian; who remembered the way it used to be. His name was Isaiah. Isaiah came to Ahaz repeatedly and telling him that he needed to purify his understanding of God. It was time to return to the custom of their forefather David. It was time to return to the days in which the people of Israel lived on curds and honey, not the lavish foods that made them spiritually obese. Because Ahaz subscribed to idol worship and polytheism his conscience no longer could choose evil from good. So who would? Isaiah was the messenger of the answer given by God. He told Ahaz that a young woman shall bear a son and his name will be Immanuel - "God with us."[3]

Many times, Christians have rested their faith on this passage to believe the son in which the prophet speaks is Jesus. In some respect this is true, but here is something you may not know. Ahaz and his wife had tried for so long to have a child. They made sacrifices to many Gods asking for favor and eventually they tired of doing the rituals. When Isaiah told him the prophecy, little did he believe that the young woman, bearing this son, would be his own flesh and blood. His son was named Hezekiah. Hezekiah was the fourteenth king in the line of King David. Hezekiah served with dad for about ten years as a co-regent or coadjutor before taking charge by himself. It was Hezekiah who would be remembered as one of the great kings because he made a radical religious reform. He banned all other religions practiced not only in Jerusalem but also in all of Judah. Temples to foreign Gods were destroyed and were replaced by the name of Yahweh. He stopped paying the tax to the Assyrians and as a result they besieged the great city.

If you ever go to Jerusalem, you will find a great city on a hill. Its walls are steep and well-fortified. The weak spot is this. If they ever shut their gates when under attack, how would they be able to get fresh water? They normally drew from the spring on the west side that flowed into the pool of Siloam but this was an easy target. Hezekiah, years before, knew this and so he had his people build a secret underground tunnel, about a third of a mile long, about three feet wide, cut straight through solid rock. It would be difficult for an adversary to see where the water was diverted by this tunnel. By what many have called a miracle from God, the army of a half million Assyrians, who surrounded the city, were decimated by a plague, wiping out nearly half of them. They died because they had no good source of water. After this victory, and for a time being, Jerusalem had a purified conscience. They were restored to the ancient covenant and made whole again. Kings are so important for a county, as are presidents. They can lead the people simply in what they believe. Unfortunately, Hezekiah's son, next in line, reverted back to idols. The reading in Isaiah is the entrance into the tunnel.

Like Jerusalem and its people, we defend our mansion up on a hill, and when under siege we need pure water, not muddied to purify our conscious and to help us live. Choose today who you worship. Use the knowledge you have in order to shine light in a world that prefers diversity in idols rather than the unity found only through Christ, Immanuel who is God with us. Be that prophet of conscience and ask those around you, not only, “What’s in your mansion?” but also, “Who is in your mansion?”

[1] Collect for Advent IV, Year A, 1979 BCP.
[2] St. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, Dover: NY, 2008; pp.15,20.
[3] Isaiah 7:10-17; Matthew 1:18-21

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